The advent of the electric powertrain has reset the automotive manufacturing landscape, essentially putting everyone back on the same starting line. Article by Marposs.
The automotive and transportation market has been experiencing an epochal transition in recent years that will lead to a complete revision of the mobility concept. The implementation on the vehicle fleet of this transition driving principles—Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared (ACES)—is proceeding decisively, albeit at different speeds. While on the one hand, real solutions for fully autonomous driving have to be considered still a future goal, the spread of electric vehicles (EVs) is seeing a growing trend and must therefore be considered a reality to deal with.
The electrification process is involving a radical revolution in a market such as that of automotive, which was by now consolidated, with well-known and long-established rules and players. The processes of continuous innovation of the traditional powertrain technology, aimed at improving performance and reducing the environmental impact, still moved within the context of technologies related to the internal combustion engine (ICE). The entry of new players into this market was, therefore, conditioned by the ability to bridge huge technological gaps compared to the car OEMs already on the market.
But the advent of the electric powertrain has reset this situation, essentially putting everyone back on the same starting line.
This condition has, first of all, opened the door to new industrial realities, which had never previously worked for the automotive market, but which could possibly boast previous skills in the design and production of strategic components of the electric powertrain, such as electric motors, batteries, or fuel cells.
It is no coincidence that the best-selling brand on the electric vehicle market today—Tesla—was born as a BEV manufacturer rather than a conversion from existing ICE technologies. Similarly, leading companies in the market for the production of lithium-ion battery cells, intended for portable applications or for stationary storage, have seen new opportunities open up with access to the automotive market.
On the other hand, companies that traditionally worked in the automotive market, car OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, have had to face the need to convert not only their product but also their production facilities towards new technologies.
This situation has favored the Tier1, which were already operating in the supply of components similar to those used in the electric powertrain, evidently facilitated in the transition. Moreover, the need of car OEMs to quickly present themselves to the market with hybrid or full electric solutions initially tipped the scales towards the use of external supply of the main components.
However, this is a transitory condition and hardly sustainable for auto OEMs in the long term, as it excessively shifts the costs of the car to the “buy” side. In fact, all the major car manufacturers are, therefore, gearing up to become more vertically integrated for what concerns the manufacturing of the powertrain, including the electric drive unit, but also of the battery that is the ultimate challenge, even for the big players.
Addressing the Challenges
This complex scenario is rapidly evolving, but must deal with pre-existing technical and production realities. In fact, it is normal to expect to find new teams of specialists in these technologies within the R&D and prototyping departments. But it is equally frequent that production environments instead see the reconversion to EV projects of personnel coming from long term experience in the ICE world.
On the other hand, specialized companies in the EV sector, not coming from the automotive sector, are now facing for the first time the production problems and quality standards typical of the automotive world.
In one way or another, there are skills or experience gaps in the field that will take years to fill.
It is in this scenario that companies, like Marposs, are called to offer products and solutions dedicated to quality and process control in the automotive sector.
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